Ethel Stein working in her studio in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, in 2008. Photo: Tom Grotta/Browngrotta Arts.

Ethel Stein (1917–2018)

Ethel Stein, a master weaver who combined historical techniques with modernist sensibilities to create colorful textile works featuring geometric and figurative imagery, has died at the age of one hundred, Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times reports.

The artist—who did not receive recognition for her work until late in her career—was also skilled at making puppets, which she began fashioning out of old socks for her son’s nursery school and eventually ended up selling at a booth in a Manhattan department store. One of her puppets, Lamb Chop, became famous after entertainer Shari Lewis brought her to life on a children’s television show that aired on WRCA-TV (now WNBC-TV) in the 1950s.

Born in New York City as Ethel Levy on June 22, 1917, Stein attended the Hessian Hills School in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, where she learned woodworking, painting, sculpture, and design from Wharton Esherick, George Biddle, Chaim Gross, and Josef Albers, as well as others associated with the Bauhaus movement. Stein later worked as an assistant at the Educational Alliance Art School in Manhattan and met her husband, the architect Richard G. Stein, while he was completing his master’s degree at Harvard University.

In the 1970s, Stein developed a relationship with Milton Sonday—who at the time was the curator of textiles at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum—and took an interest in the institution’s textile works. “Through years of research in world-renowned museum textile collections, she made permanent contributions to the academic study of textile structures while simultaneously informing her own work,” Lucy A. Commoner, the former head of conservation and senior textile conservator at the Cooper-Hewitt, told the New York Times.

Stein’s first solo exhibition was staged at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014. Two years earlier, she gifted the institution thirty-four of her works. Her textiles have also been featured in a number of group shows at the Cooper-Hewitt, the American Craft Museum in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among other institutions.